An interdisciplinary team of Harvard Graduate School of Design students recently presented at the 2015 Ajman Urban Planning Conference in Ajman, United Arab Emirates, alongside the GSD’s Ann Forsyth, professor of urban planning.
The team had entered a design competition focused on this year’s conference theme: event cities. The competition asked teams to envision Ajman as a venue for a series of major events, centered around an unconventional site: a camel race track on the city’s outskirts.
Advised by Forsyth, the GSD team comprised urban planning students Russell Koff, Annie White, and Faisal bin Ayyaf Almogren (all MUP ’16), along with Christian Lavista (MArch ’16) and Shahab Albahar (MLA ’15).
“This kind of interdisciplinary team is common in the world of practice and solving the competition problem required a collaborative approach,” Forsyth said. “It also made it more interesting for the students and for me as opinions were more diverse.”
The team aimed to embed the “event city” premise in a multiuse, continuously active cultural district that could be relevant to tourists and locals alike. Furthermore, they sought to pioneer a more sustainable model of urbanization for the Emirates.
The team’s proposal offered a new cultural center and residential district for the city highlighting the balance between major event spaces, large-scale residential areas, and the local landscape.
White, Koff, and Albahar traveled to the March conference with Forsyth and informally collaborated with other teams from around the world, sharing notes from their respective projects and staging an impromptu jury. They found the competition and conference to be unique venues for fresh dialogue and experimentation.
“We were both questioning and critical of the idea of an ‘event city,’ but also interested by it,” said White, adding that the site—located outside the city, and with virtually no buildings or built landscapes—was “the closest thing you can get to a blank slate.”